Most people do not recognize the awkward liminal space I occupy between hearty, jiu-jitsu obsessed competitor and full time student who constantly contemplates the doom of real world job-dom. I used to exclaim in interviews that jiu jitsu as a career was a waste of time, I would never subscribe to such a path for myself.
Little did I know that the more I would train, the more I would fall in love with jiu jitsu and all of its gritty aspects: the training, the teaching, the bitterness of loss and the joy of progress all rolled into one. The more attached I’ve grown to BJJ, the more fearful I’ve become. As a 22 year-old nursing her third, and most serious surgery, I’ve been forced to consider the fragility of a body abused by years of disrespect and neglect.
I’ve been overzealous and carefree in my training: refusing to tap, landing wrong on certain body parts, telling myself I can escape positions that contort my body in unnatural shapes. Such was my mantra for years. Now cursed (or is it blessed) with an injury severe enough to take me away from major competitions and even regular training, I am forced to reflect upon how I got here and how I may recover.
The first months post-surgery were nothing but utter depression. I attempted to focus on other enjoyable life-things: painting, reading, trying to teach myself new things. Expectedly, nothing came as a perfect substitute for the sweaty, mind-numbing therapy sessions I endured on the mats. Sitting on the sidelines and watching class go by did nothing to satiate the ravenous hunger I held on to for the sport. If anything, watching the class go by without me forced a rather egotistical thought to secure itself within me; I was excluded from my class, my gym and by extension, the community and livelihood I used to give myself agency and purpose.
My emotional and mental well-being continued to be compromised and it seemed that no matter what “other” I looked towards or immersed myself in, jiu jitsu kept calling back to me. I finally understood the obsession. I used to roll my eyes towards those who exclaimed they couldn’t go a week without jiu jitsu. It was a humbling discovery to notice how truly dependent I am on the sport to keep myself sane.
I wish I could tell you all that in my difficult journey towards getting my body back to training-shape, I found some secret formula that prevented my traveling down a pit of despair. Those uncomfortable moments of not knowing what to do will always be there. It does, however, help to drive focus towards a new goal or a new thing to try. I’ve always been a fan of horror fiction, and immersing myself in Stephen King was a good distraction. So was learning about new recipes and food combinations to try.
Working towards caring about my body is an entirely different concept with which I am just now being familiarized. Gone are the days of assuming my youth makes me immune to the debilitating forces of over-training. I’m done listening to big-brand athletes hyping up hard training over careful and considerate rolling. Your body is yours to care for only, and we must learn to listen to our bodies’ strained cries for help. I’m no longer willing to entertain the sentiments many grapplers advocate; the three hour non-stop sessions, twice a day plus conditioning. The sweating and training until your fingers bleed and muscles scream for relief.
There is a method to training, and it is not to be the one at the gym most, grunting the loudest, and sweating the most profusely. Take it from me: upon realizing the defunct-ness of my shoulder I ignored the symptoms as something trivial, something that would pass over time. I competed with my shoulder, trained hard and landed wrong on my shoulder, used my shoulder to lift heavy things, worked it beyond simple repair. All that wear and tear can only attribute itself to my stubborn nature and denial for fear of missing out on jiu jitsu.
The most important thing I’ve taken away from the stress and grind of coming back is to wisely persevere. Don’t push the limits of what your body can do post-injury, do not try to convince your training partners and physical therapists that your pain has subsided when it hasn’t, and do not compromise your own well-being to satisfy a craving. Jiu jitsu will be there for us no matter what, it’s time for us to be more considerate towards ourselves.